Kite: You’re In The Loop. We’re here to discuss the ups, downs, and sideways of the sport of figure skating and maybe give you plus five GOE along the way. This week’s hosts are Kite,
Lo: And Lo. Here’s a brief host intro.
Karly: I’m Karly, I live in Ohio in the US and I’m taking all my free time I have during the summer to learn as much about figure skating as I possibly can. You can find me on Twitter @cyberswansp.
Kite: Hi, I’m Kite. I live in Massachusetts and I’m currently sneaking away from my full time job as a lab technician to work on my part time job as a podcast host. You can find me on Twitter @mossyzinc.
Clara: Hi, I’m Clara and I’m a French person living in London. I’m an ex-management consultant, I’m learning to code right now and I’m basically an all-around soulless corporate drone so I’m the one who’s to blame for a lot of the stats that we’re going to throw at you today. You can find me on Twitter @daejangie.
Lo: I’m Lo. I’m a teacher from the Midwestern US and there’s nothing I love more than a good step sequence. My Twitter is @letsgocrazysp.
Karly: We always start with a news segment but today we have some pretty serious news to start with. On the 19th of July, Denis Ten from Kazakhstan was stabbed by two robbers attempting to steal his car mirrors. He was taken to the hospital where he passed away despite doctors’ best efforts to save him. Both suspects have been apprehended and plead guilty. In memory of Denis Ten and all he did for figure skating, both in Kazakhstan and worldwide, we would like to ask that you join us in a moment of silence.
Karly: We’ll talk a little bit more about him in the episode as it pertains and we have a little shout-out for him at the end of the episode too.
Kite: But to move into other news, over the past two weeks the Chinese pairs team Yu and Zhang have not been included on the Chinese National Team because Yu has a foot injury that seems to be recurring and pretty serious. And they’ve also withdrawn from their Grand Prix assignments in the fall, Skate America and the French event. That puts a little bit of a damper on the Chinese pairs presence on the Grand Prix series but we do wish them a speedy recovery and that we’ll see them in competition again very soon.
Lo: It feels as though pairs has gotten very — a bit watered down compared to last season. And there’s a lot of teams that are sitting out or have pulled out of the Grand Prix series. It’s kind of disappointing. But it also gives an opportunity for maybe smaller teams to rise which I’m looking forward to.
Kite: Yeah, for sure.
Lo: In another piece of news, Jinseo Kim has announced that this will be his final competitive season which isn’t really news but I’m glad that we have a clarification and I really hope that his final season will be everything that he could possibly want. I’ll look forward to his programs and treasure them just knowing that we might not see him again.
Karly: We also have Nastya Tarakanova leaving her coach Eteri for Plushenko. And I’m all for people leaving Eteri, not gonna lie.
Lo: I think that Plushenko still has quite a bit to prove as a top tier coach, he hasn’t really had a skater that has really reached the top tier in my opinion so far, so I guess that remains to be seen. But I do think it likely will be a healthier environment for her, to be with Plushenko than to be with Eteri. In another piece of news, Anna Pogorilaya got married in the past few weeks, and the pictures look completely lovely. She looks very happy and I don’t really know what this means for her future in the sport but at the very least we know that she’s clearly very happy and is doing well personally, so good for her. I hope that she has a very happy marriage and it all goes well. They look… the pictures are so cute; they’re very sweet together.
Kite: We wish her the best.
Karly: In our next pair of news, we have the Korean ice dance team of Yura Min and Alexander Gamelin have ended their three year partnership. It was kind of dramatic.
Kite: It was quite confusing to see news coming out from kind of both parties involved in that split. I don’t think anyone really knows what’s going on or what happened between them but we do wish them the best.
Lo: There’s sort of a he-said-she-said thing going on right now between the two of them and it’s a little uncomfortable to witness, in my opinion. And I just hope that everything gets resolved as soon as possible, and they can both move on with their careers and continue in the sport if they would like to. So, hopefully that goes well. I’m kind of disappointed because I really enjoyed watching them at the Olympics. I thought they did a good job representing Korea and in general, I like to see ice dance, or Asian ice dance teams do well and it’s kind of disappointing to see a partnership that hasn’t like won a whole lot — but I think they have made a bit of a name for themselves in the past season. It’s kind of a bummer to see them split but, alas, what can you do.
Clara: And finally, in more sad pairs news, the Canadian team of Seguin/Bilodeau has ended their partnership. Again, this seems to be really abrupt — as far as we know they already had their programs ready, they had GP assignments, and it seems to be driven by Bilodeau and the fact that their results over the past few seasons haven’t been quite what they hoped for. But it’s pretty disappointing, and I think it seems to have been a bit of a surprise to Julianne so let’s see how soon they manage to get into the game, if they do.
— segment end —
Clara: When we originally planned this episode, we wanted to talk about the iconic news stories of figure skating. But as we started to put it together and build it into something that looked more like an episode and less like a list of notes, we got to thinking about the broader narratives that these stories fit into and what those stories say about the sport. So in the end, this has more or less morphed into something like a brief history of the last thirty years of figure skating, which is clearly more than anyone can cover in an hour, especially us, given how chatty we are liable to be. So take this as an upfront disclaimer, this is going to be a very whistle-stop tour and necessarily incomplete. But we hope that if you’re a newish fan, you’ll find it useful, either as a jumping-off point to discover iconic skaters that you maybe haven’t watched before, or just to understand the context behind the way figure skating news is covered, whether it’s Alina’s fully backloaded Olympic programs or the men’s quad race. The other thing to note is we will be dumping quite a lot of dates and numbers on you during this episode, even though we promise to do our best to keep it under control, but we know that that can be a bit hard to digest over audio so our graphics superstar Gabb is going to put together a beautiful infographic that summarizes a lot of what we are going to cover today. You will be able to find it on Twitter or Tumblr so please do go check that out.
Karly: We’re going to start off with some of the biggest news and turning points in the techniques that’s used in figure skating here. Where we really begin, one of our oldest pieces of news is the removal of compulsory figures, which made figure skating into the short program and the free program. Compulsory figures are what gave figure skating its name. Skaters would trace circles, like figure-eights, onto the ice and they were judged on the shape of the circles and the depth of their edges.
Kite: And it was initially worth 60% of the skater’s overall mark in the competition so 60% would come from the compulsory figures, and then the remaining 40% would come from the short program and the long program. And as the decades passed, the value of the compulsory figures dropped about 10% every decade until it was finally abolished with the decision of the 1988 ISU Congress. And a big part of this was that they were pretty boring to watch on TV, to be totally frank. Viewers weren’t super interested in it and even the ISU and skating federation presidents called them “boring.” That’s a direct quote. And the judges felt that it was hard to compare figures between skaters because a lot of them looked pretty similar and it was hard to judge who had the best figures of the day.
Clara: And it took hours, right?
Kite: Yeah, it took like eight hours to judge a figures competition which was ridiculous.
Clara: How do you even televise that?
Kite: Exactly, I don’t think they did. In the end they just, yeah.
Karly: And then another thing that contributed to figures being cut, something pointed out by Dr. Hugh Graham, who is the current head of the US Figure Skating Association, it would cut coaching time and rental skating time because it was just another chunk that you didn’t have to pay for and so it would reduce costs for skaters which is good because money is a problem for a lot.
Lo: And this change really benefited younger skaters such as Midori Ito and Janet Lynn due to their ability to execute difficult elements without needing to learn figures, which took years and years of practice. And this trend continued to present day, and you can really see it with the average ages of men’s and women’s Olympic champions since 1990. They are, since 1990 it is 18.3 for women and 22 years for men, and previously the ages, the average ages were 21.2 and 24.8. And the reason for this change is likely due to, it’s much easier to execute technical elements and, at a younger age and they also take a larger toll on your body which makes the career shelf life shorter than they were in the past.
Clara: Yeah, Kite and I were discussing this. It’s interesting the way those two intertwine, right? All of a sudden you need a lot less time to learn those technical skills and you can come onto the scene a lot earlier. But equally, the length of your career is, we think, probably affected by the fact that we’re now competing on difficult technical elements rather than pure skating skills.
Kite: I think that’s been confirmed by some skaters actually, is that Javier Fernandez said that you fall a lot harder when you’re 26 than when you’re 20. Your competitive career is necessarily shortened by the fact that you’re pushing your body through these ridiculous technical elements that weren’t really needed to win 20, 30 years ago. And that’s why Olympic champions are on average three years younger now than they were when you still had compulsory figures.
Karly: But speaking of technical elements required to win, another change in technique that we want to look at is triple-triple combos in ladies’ singles.
Lo: Until recently, triple-triple combos were really the only major technical innovation that managed to take root in ladies’ singles. And the pioneer of this trend was Irina Slutskaya, who was the first woman to land a 3S-3T in competition at Worlds in 1997, the first 3Lz-3T at 2000 Grand Prix Final, and the first 3Lz-3Lo at Worlds 2001. And Yuna Kim really took this trend and ran with it to dominate the sport from basically 2006 to 2014, more or less. And her go-to jump especially was the 3Lz-3T. She was the first woman to break 75 in the short program, 150 in the free skate, and 200 overall. Her records stood for four, six, and seven years respectively. Only Evgenia, Alina, Kaetlyn, and Alexandra Trusova have surpassed 150 since. I’ve got to say – that it’s wild that a junior has surpassed 150.
Karly: That’s what I was just thinking.
Lo: It’s absolutely nuts, but anyway.
Kite: I think it’s also wild that her record stood for that long. I mean, seven years is like a lifetime, that’s a career in ladies’ singles skating.
Clara: It’s multiple careers, yeah.
Kite: And especially they didn’t start giving the second-half bonus [in the short program] until 2012, so that’s even more testament to how dominant she was in the sport for such a long time. There’s not really a lot of precedent for that and it’s just, it’s amazing that she was able to stay on top of the game. And just to keep up with the technical innovations.
Clara: While not even competing every year, for that matter.
Kite: Exactly. She took basically two seasons off. She came to Worlds in 2011 and then —
Lo: And then disappeared until Worlds 2013 and then did not compete the Grand Prix series of her Olympic season the next year, so she took a lot of time off. And yet still managed to be as competitive as anyone so…
Lo: She was an extremely dominating figure in her time.
Kite: Never finished off the podium either in her junior or her senior career which again is unmatched, I think.
Lo: Yeah, absolutely nuts.
Karly: Unlike triple-triple combos, there have been other tech innovations that some ladies have tried but they never seemed to really take off, such as the 3A. The first woman to land the 3A in international competition was Midori Ito. And she is always, she’s the name I associate with the 3A, not any other name.
Kite: Yeah, she was the first woman to land it at the Olympics as well which she did in..
Clara: And they were beautiful.
Kite: They were huge.
Karly: Those were gorgeous.
Lo: In my opinion, they’re still the best ladies 3A that I’ve ever seen and I’d say that her 3A are better than quite a few men’s. They hold up extremely well if you go back and re-watch some of her old performances and her old 3A. She can do it, it was — it’s beautiful.
Clara: They’re big, her air position is amazing, I mean, absolutely.
Karly: She’s not the only one to have landed 3A. We also have Mao Asada, who was, we consider, the last lady to have a consistent 3A. And she also was the first woman in history to land three of them at the Olympics in 2010. And when we say the last consistent 3A — other women have landed them, but no one really has a consistent one. We’ve seen them from Rika Kihira, Mirai Nagasu, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva —
Lo: Alysa Liu, Alaine Chartrand, I believe Kimmie Meissner landed it once or twice, and Tonya Harding also, it was a signature jump for her, although —
Karly: It was ugly.
Lo: It was ugly, it wasn’t nearly as consistent as Midori Ito, who was, again, was competing at the same time as her, and if you wanna see what a true 3A looks like, look at Midori Ito’s, don’t look at Tonya Harding’s. Basically.
Kite: And especially now with IJS, it’s not really worth the risk of attempting a 3A, because again, none of the current competing ladies have a consistent one, and just based on a points standpoint, it’s more worth your effort to go for a triple-triple than go for a 3A. And you’re more likely to land a triple-triple, to be frank.
Lo: Absolutely, absolutely. Again, look at the 2010 Olympics for the perfect example. Mao Asada landed three and still lost to Yuna pretty comfortably. It wasn’t particularly close, and that’s not a knock on Mao’s skating, it was wonderful and beautiful, but Yuna was technically dominant even without the 3A. It hasn’t really become a mainstay in the sport because the triple-triple has been a much more efficient way to rack up the points.
Clara: Because you don’t have the calculus that men have with quads, right, where the base value is just so high that even with a fall deduction it’s worth risking it. The 3A just isn’t worth that much compared to a successful triple-triple.
Kite: Speaking of ladies who have made innovations in the field of triple jumps, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva is the first and only lady who has ever landed four triples in a short program, which she did at the 2015 World Championships, which she actually ended up winning. And one of those jumps was a 3A, so to equal that feat you would need to have a 3A in the short program at least and no woman has matched that in the three years that have passed, so it does seem to be still a little bit of a pie in the sky goal for a lot of ladies. Some are training it, but again, the risk outweighs the reward in this case of attempting to break that record or match that record.
Karly: Yeah, it’s more getting the name value of landing it.
Kite: Basically. It’s a showstopping jump, but in terms of racking up points it’s not your best bet.
Clara: But we’ve seen so few attempts over the last few years, I’m really excited actually now that we’ve got more juniors coming up who are attempting it, at least somewhat more regularly.
Lo: Even in the seniors, a lot of the Japanese ladies in particular have mentioned wanting to land the 3A. I believe that Kaori Sakamoto has talked about wanting to train the 3A. And Wakaba Higuchi has trained it quite a bit and I think it’s pretty likely that she will land it or at the very least attempt it at some point this season. She’s said as much that she’d like to introduce it towards the middle of the season so I think that’s something we can look forward to. So it’s not as though the 3A is dead or completely missing from ladies skating. It is there, it just simply hasn’t been the dominant figure that we thought it would be when it was introduced.
Karly: Our fourth and final tech innovation with the ladies is quads. We don’t see a lot of quads with ladies. As with the 3A, we have a pioneer for quads. We have Miki Ando, who landed the first ratified 4S at the 2002 Junior Grand Prix Final. But we haven’t seen another quad from a lady until Alexandra Trusova, who landed a clean 4S and 4T at the 2018 Junior Worlds.
Kite: And there are senior ladies who have attempted quads in international competition. Surya Bonaly and Sasha Cohen both attempted quads in their time but no senior lady has ever landed a ratified quad in competition and so I think this raises some questions about how sustainable they are on bodies following puberty and what it means for the technical limits of ladies figure skating. And again, with the not necessarily being worth the risk to gain those points from a 4S when you could gain almost as many points, or just as many points, with a clean 3Lz-3T.
Karly: Yeah and as for current ladies, and having current senior ladies and having a quad, we have a couple of ladies who are known to be practicing quads, like Gabby Daleman and her in-practice 4T. But we still haven’t seen any landed in competition.
Clara: I wonder if it’s a question of equipment as well. As blades get better, stronger, is that something that’s gonna help them get there maybe, or is it really a strength issue.
Lo: I think that’s a really good question, and I guess… we won’t really know until we see it play out in the next few seasons although I’m wondering with the recent devaluation of quads in the code of points that we might see fewer ladies attempting them. That might be one of the reactions to the new rules. So I guess we shall see.
Clara: Yeah. My other suspicion, I’m gonna go on a mild data nerd tangent, but my other suspicion is that ladies’ PCS is more penalized by falls than men’s PCS is. Partly because they don’t have the history of quads, right, so it’s gonna become this vicious cycle where you don’t have the incentive to try it despite what should be a clean base value minus deduction calculation just because you know your PCS is going to get slammed.
Kite: Yeah and there’s something to be said about the fact that so few ladies are trying it anyway. So few senior ladies anyway are trying it, so maybe they have the sense as well that it’s just…. it’s not worth it. It’s better to stick to the kind of jumps that are more reliable and are looked upon more favourably by the judges.
Lo: And I guess we’ll see what the recent success of Trusova will impact on the ladies’ field, especially in juniors. I think that we all probably see a lot more junior ladies attempting quads in the next few seasons. We already have seen a lot of practice videos of various and mostly Russian ladies attempting a 4Lz or something equally wild, and I don’t think that trend is necessarily going to stop on the junior level, but I’m still somewhat suspicious on it truly becoming a mainstay in senior ladies, at least not for a while. But again, we can’t really predict the future and for all we know Trusova might never lose her quads. She could just be getting 90+ technical scores even as a senior, so I guess it’s possible, man.
Karly: That would be mindblowing.
Lo: That would be absolutely mindblowing. And completely revolutionize the sport, most likely. But personally I have my own suspicions on whether she’ll be able to maintain them as a senior, but we’ll see!
Clara: Basically as we’ve said, with the fact that quads don’t seem to be taking hold, the 3A doesn’t seem to be taking hold, ladies have turned to backloading as a way of differentiating themselves and maximizing the points they get. As Kite said earlier, we get the second half bonus [in the short program] coming in in 2012 that has now been somewhat reduced post the 2018 Congress, since the bonus only applies to one jump in the SP and three jumps in the FS going forward. But the change you see in 2012 is really remarkable actually, I was looking from the beginning of IJS and up until 2012 literally not a single senior lady was putting more than one jump in the second half of their SP. Bonus comes in, and now almost half of them do. And FS was always a bit murkier as a picture, but again, the number of ladies who were putting more than three jumps in the second half has doubled since that bonus came in. So it really has had a massive impact.
Kite: Yeah and especially with this year with the Olympic Games and Alina Zagitova fully backloading both of her programs, both the short program and the free skate, there was a lot of discussion that was raised about whether or not this maximizes your technical score at the expense of your performance score. Because you had the first half of the program, which is just the step sequence, the choreo sequence, the spins, and then the second half was just basically one to two and a half minutes of just jumping. And unfortunately at Worlds we did see the problem with backloading become pretty clear which was that when you backload your jumps like that, having back-to-back jumping passes, leaves you basically no margin for error and your mistakes can really compound on one another because there’s so little time to recenter yourself between jumps and it’s harder to improvise your jumps to get points back. Because you’re done with one and immediately you have to be thinking about the next one.
Clara: I was really interested by the pushback on Alina’s fully backloaded programs, actually, because the idea that just because you have all of your jumps in the second half, it’s somehow artistically lesser, is surprising to me. I mean, surely it’s just a matter of choreographing it well, or better.
Karly: Yeah cause we saw some backloading from Kaori Sakamoto and it wasn’t even something that registered for me. So it really just matters on good choreographing.
Lo: And I think that regardless of what we as fans might think about whether Zagitova’s free skate in particular was very well choreographed, clearly the judges disagreed, she was very well rewarded for doing that. Clearly according to the PCS, according to the judges, it was a well put together program. I think that it’s a little, part of me is a little baffled that now suddenly they’re blaming her for causing the downfall of the sport — that’s a bit of an exaggeration — but they’re blaming her for removing the artistry of skating when in fact the judging system that they created was the thing that created her type of program in the first place.
Lo: There’s a bit of a contradiction there, in my opinion. I also think that we need to remember that the reason that the backloading bonus exists in the first place was because in the earlier years of IJS frontloading was a huge issue. For example, if you go and rewatch some of Plushenko’s old programs, pretty much all of his jumps were very early in the program and the rest was just posing, basically. It’s again it’s a little bit, there’s a little bit of IJS not really knowing exactly what it wants to reward, they’re still very much making it up as it goes on, in my opinion. It’s an interesting thing to think about.
Kite: Yeah, she did get some unfair criticism on that. I did see people saying that she was gaming the system, to put it in a little bit of a crude way. But she’s playing by the rules, her team is playing by the rules, it’s the rules that the ISU created and they’re taking full advantage of it and I don’t think she should necessarily be penalized for that. I think maybe the programs themselves did leave some artistry to be desired for sure, but the act of backloading itself is not really a subject for criticism.
Lo: I think that coaches and choreographers should be gaming the system, for lack of a better word. I think they should be doing everything they possibly can to maximize the point potential of their students. If that’s not happening, you’re letting down your client. And I guess the real challenge is trying to find a way to do that while still having compelling and artistic programs, and that’s difficult. There aren’t very many people who have been able to do that in the IJS era, in my opinion. There are a few but not that many and it’s gonna continue to be hard. It’s a hard sport, it’s difficult, it’s almost impossible to do.
Clara: I was just gonna say, it seems like a really weird line in the sand to draw as well. Why is backloading gaming the system when, I don’t know, adding a not particularly aesthetic-looking 2Lo to the end of a two jump combo to make it a triple, how is that not gaming the system? Anything you do to maximize points is fair and valid, in my opinion. The distinction kind of escapes me.
Lo: I agree. And it’s kind of a double edged sword of the IJS, if you’re gonna move to an open-end system like this, people are going to look for ways to get as many points as possible. And those ways might not always be the most aesthetically pleasing. I guess it’s hard to really make that perfect system that continues to uphold artistic standards while also, making innovations as an athletic sport. And I don’t think that the IJS has quite figured that out yet, but it’s gonna be difficult. It’s not an easy thing to do.
Clara: It’s kinda fun to watch them figure it out.
Lo: It is fun to watch them figure it out. And, you know, it’s fun to criticize them for it too, let’s be real, but at the end of the day, it’s a difficult job. I have my own ideas of what I want to see, but I have no idea if they’d work out. They might end up causing some issues that I hadn’t really foreseen, so I’m not saying that we should never criticize the ISU, because we definitely should, but it is something that should be kept in mind that it’s hard to please everyone and at the end of the day we all have different tastes and what we want for our sport.
Clara: And also to keep that balance between rules that get you the outcomes that you want but are still simple enough that they make — this is figure skating, the rules are incredibly abstruse anyway — but are still simple enough to be comprehensible. On this backloading thing, it’s meant to be, it’s called the highlight distribution bonus, right, you could imagine a world where you’d say “you know what, instead of talking about halves, each jump needs to be separated from the next jump element by at least 45 seconds” or something. But then that becomes almost impossible to explain to people and incredibly difficult to automate. So yeah, it is really tough, I agree with you, Lo.
Karly: We’ve talked about technical innovations in ladies’ singles and now we have a big thing to talk about in men’s singles. The rise of quads as a necessary element of men’s skating.
Kite: With the rise of quads which began in 1988 when Kurt Browning landed the first ratified 4T at the World Championships. We’ve seen an accelerating pace of technical development in the men’s singles field. There was a ten year gap between when someone landed a 4T and a 4S, and then a thirteen year gap between the 4S and the 4Lz. But then only a five year gap between the 4Lz and the 4F. And so you can see that technical innovations are coming at a much faster pace now and what this means for the future of the men’s singles remains to be seen. No one’s landed a 4A yet so that’s pretty obviously the next one on the list to master for the men who are willing to challenge it.
Clara: And lots of people seem to be training it on harnesses at least. There’s just this one stat I want to drop in because I think it’s quite meaningful. It’s how many different types of quads you need to have. It used to be the case that you had one, maybe two quads, definitely two quads you were a dominant senior man. So between 2004-2010, only about five guys had two or more different quads. And now in 2017-2018, it was 29. That just gives you another idea of the explosion of both the number and diversity of quads that are required to podium in this day and age.
Karly: Speaking of quads as a necessity for winning, really the culmination of that argument was at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics in the men’s event. We had Evan Lysacek winning over Evgeni Plushenko and he won without jumping any quads, which, to everyone in the know watching, was seemingly undoable.
Lo: I believe it was the first time someone had won the Olympics without a quad since 1994 and Alexei Urmanov, and it sparked a debate on what figure skating is really supposed to mean: Is it an artistic sport or is it more of just an athletic sport, although personally I really dislike that dichotomy, I think you need to have both in a sport like figure skating. I think that artistry is built on athletic strength, but anyway.
Clara: To be honest, it probably also didn’t help that it was Russia versus the US, right?
Lo: Absolutely not. Especially in the US how this was portrayed was very much as ‘the American is the true artist’ while Plushenko —
Karly: The “Russian robot” is just the jumper.
Lo: Yeah, the “Russian robot” which…in my opinion neither of those designations are remotely accurate at all but it was very easy for the US media to jump on that narrative — which shouldn’t have been a narrative in the first place — but they can’t really help inserting some Cold War nonsense into their narrative as much as they can. It’s to be expected from NBC.
Kite: And like Lo said, you had American skating teams weighing in on this. You had Frank Carroll, who is quite a well known coach in the US saying, “it’s not figure jumping, it’s figure skating” — that’s a direct quote. You just had this attitude of ‘Well, if you’re winning without quads, it’s almost like you’re doing something right, because that means you somehow have the performance skill to override the fact that now you need a quad to win” and it was the height of the debate, I think.
Lo: And quite frankly, I think that this attitude led to a bit of a downturn in men’s skating after Lysacek retired.
Clara: In the US, definitely.
Lo: In the US, excuse me, that’s exactly what I mean. They didn’t really have a dominant figure from 2010 until the rise of Nathan Chen in the past two years and now, of course, it’s all about the quads.
Lo: It’s all about hyping up the quad king now that we have someone who can do it. I definitely think that this old fashioned attitude in the US that’s, “We have the true artists, not the jumping beans”, it held down the sport in men’s and it’s still kind of holding down the sport in the ladies discipline, in my opinion. 2011 Euros is what I consider the true end of the pre-quad era.
Clara: From a European perspective, I guess, even though it was a lot less relevant and received a lot less coverage than Olys in 2010. You’ve got Florent Amodio in 2011 at Euros who’s the last man to win a major international competition without a quad. And it never happened again after that.
Lo: I don’t see it ever happening again. I truly don’t think it’s possible anymore. Especially when the top men — the men at the very top — are landing at least one or two quads very consistently.
Karly: With the rise of quads, they’re definitely seen as a necessity because you see a lot of celebration when a skater has a quad and it reminds me of the fact Julian Yee recently was seen training the quad sal and a lot of excitement followed on Twitter because it’s seen as “You are now a competitor.” You look at the top ten men and all of them are at least attempting quads. Only one of them has never landed a quad in competition.
Clara: It’s kind of interesting that even our attitude that getting a quad in some way makes you competitive now is kind of four years behind, right? Because if you look at the guys who are actually at the top and medalling, they have three or four quads. So getting a quad now, what does that get you? That gets you maybe a podium in a GP series event but is it even enough for more than that? I’m not sure.
Karly: It also brings into the question what really defines “having a quad.” For me, to be considered “having a quad” means it’s ratified in competition and there’s a lot of discussion that can be around that question.
Kite: I definitely agree with Karly on that point. For example, Jason Brown has been seen landing a quad toe cleanly in practice — he landed a beautiful one at 2018 Nationals in practice but he’s never landed a ratified quad in international competition. So personally, I would not say he has a quad and I wouldn’t say that he has a quad until he lands it clean, he gets the rotations — he did get the rotations at 2016 or 2017 Skate America but then he fell so I wouldn’t consider that a ratified quad.
Clara: And I sort of see where you’re coming from but my only hesitation is once you have a quad, do you keep it forever? And my example for that is… so Yuzuru in 2012/13 was landing his 4S with a — okay, not amazing but with some amount of success — and then you come to 2013/14 and all of a sudden he can’t land it at all anymore. It’s sort of difficult to draw the line. What sort of level of success do you need? Do you just keep your quad forever or if you suddenly can’t land it anymore, do you lose it? It’s not super clear to me how you draw the line.
Kite: His success rate wasn’t zero, though, was it? He still landed it at some point in the season.
Clara: I think he landed it at Worlds, did he land it before that?
Lo: Landed it at Worlds. I can’t really remember if he landed it earlier in the season. And I think another example of this is Nathan Chen and his 4Lo. He landed it once. We have not seen it since. And even Shoma Uno and his 4Lo. He does not land it consistently at all. He attempts it pretty much in every free program but it’s very rarely landed. Can we say he has a consistent quad loop? I don’t think we could say he has a consistent one, personally, and I wouldn’t even necessarily say that Nathan Chen has one so it’s really up to one’s personal definition.
Clara: Yes, go forth and argue on Twitter.
Lo: With certain skaters, they get the benefit of the doubt. Again, I’m going to use Nathan as an example. Because Nathan is known for his quad mastery, people will give him a benefit of the doubt on whether or not he has a quad loop, for example. They would not give the benefit of the doubt to Jason Brown if it were him. Or even Kolyada, I think. It’s an interesting double standard there and it’s not even necessarily an unfair one, but it’s definitely present.
Karly: We talked a lot about turning points in technique in figure skating and now we’re going to be taking a different route, talking about figure skating’s geographical centre of gravity.
We’re going to start with the US skating team’s plane crash which happened prior to the 1961 WC and their subsequent induction into USFS Hall of Fame (1961, 2011). US champions in all four disciplines were killed in this plane crash and you can see if you look in our data, it led to a deficit of US skaters on the worldwide stage and it really just had an impact on the US in figure skating.
Kite: It wasn’t until Peggy Fleming won the 1968 Olympics that you really saw US figure skating start to bounce back, because the top skaters were all killed in the plane crash and it left such a huge vacuum in the sport in the US for such a long time that it took seven years for the sport to really begin to rise in the world stage again.
Clara: And it’s not just skaters, right, it’s also coaches.
Kites: Yeah coaches, other medallists were also on the plane.
Lo: I believe prior to the accident, the US had won almost every men’s gold medal for maybe the past 30-40 years. After the crash, it has not won almost every single gold medal. I don’t want to say that it’s still impacting the men’s field because obviously it’s been over 50 years, but I do think that it had never truly recovered from that tragedy. And of course, it needs to be mentioned that the families have never truly recovered — I mean, they’ve managed to have, hopefully, fulfilling and healthy lives, but they can never replace the people that they lost. I think that’s the most important thing to remember about this tragedy, it’s that beyond the impact on the sport, the impact on the people who knew the athletes, and the coaches, and everyone who was involved on that plane.
Clara: You touched on how’s there’s — not as marked as in Europe — but there’s a slow decline in US men’s skating especially, post the 1960s. And then there’s a really marked decline in Europe: if you look at where the Worlds medals used to come from, it’s Europe Europe Europe for the first hundred years of the championship’s existence, and we’re barely a blip on the radar as far as figure skating’s concerned, and it really shows you that vicious cycle, like we were mentioning earlier. You lose a whole part of the infrastructure of the US figure skating world in that crash, and on a few occasions in Europe similar things have happened, so that you get fewer medals.
Specifically in the UK, for example, when Cousins retired in 1980, when he was really at the height of his career, he’d just won the Olympic gold medal, he was the Worlds silver medallist, he was the European champion. He disappears, so all of a sudden there’s less public interest because there was no one behind him to really pick up the slack, so figure skating becomes less popular, so there’s less revenue which means they invest less, which means that future skaters no longer manage to attain quite the elite level that the big name skater from before did, and before if you’ve really engaged this cycle of decline that’s really hard to climb out of. Cousins is an especially bad example of that and we were looking — we’re not quite sure, because the records from the UK figure skating association are kind of patchy online, but we think, as an example of how empty the field was behind Cousins — that literally the only senior men’s competitor in the UK national championships the next year was Chris Howarth, who you will now know as being one of the lovely British Eurosport uncles. And the same thing has happened with men in France, with Amodio who we mentioned earlier, who retired in 2015, and there was really no one there behind, and possibly is going to happen with senior ladies in Italy as well, with Carolina retiring. And just on the point of this vicious circle of funding, in the UK now figure skating has become so, well, irrelevant — I’m being slightly hyperbolic — to the public imagination that there is 0, absolutely 0 government funding for figure skating for the next quad, even though we do have some moderately successful ice dance teams. It’s hard to see how we start to climb back up that slope, at this point.
Lo: I think that the UK is a particularly interesting example of this trend of European figure skating, considering that they do have some of the most dominant and well-known characters in the sport, for example, Torvill and Dean and John Curry. I consider John Curry to be one of the greatest of all time, I think his skating holds up quite well, all things considered. Obviously if you’re familiar with modern skating, the jumps are not going to be to your standards, but everything else about his skating is just as good, in my opinion.
I would say that, unlike the US men, US ladies were still very dominant in the sport from the late ’50s to, I’d say, the mid 2000s. A US lady was on the podium for 35 of 37 years from 1970 to 2006. And 16 of those years saw an American champ; the US podium had a sweep in 1991, and Michelle Kwan medaled in nine consecutive years, and in my opinion should have medaled in the 10th but I won’t get into that.
Kite: And that’s a discussion for another day!
Lo: And I’ll fight you if you disagree! Just kidding. But also not kidding at all.
Clara: I love relitigating 20 year-old World Championships…
Lo: This was not 20 years old, I’m talking about 2005 — anyway.
Kite: The overarching theme here is that since 2006 the US ladies have only won one World medal: that was Ashley Wagner in 2016. The question is, what happened to the US being so dominant in this field and then all of a sudden being unable to pick up the slack?
Lo: I’d say that the biggest factor would be the change from the 6.0 system to the IJS. While other nations learned to adapt, most notably Russia and Japan, the US did not, they still largely maintained a 6.0 mindset on a national level, and by the time that other skaters from other nations had started to really surpass the US, they were basically so behind that it was hard to make up the slack. And I think that they still have quite a lot of ground to cover, if they really want to catch up to Japan and Russia, that they’re starting to make those technical innovations at a younger age but — there’s a long way to go. And the damage has already been done, clearly, as the US hasn’t medalled since 2006, outside of a US-held World Championships. You have to remember that Ashley Wagner was skating at home. She did amazing at that championship, but we haven’t seen a US lady medal at a non-American World Championship since 2006.
Clara: You’re right, and I think we mentioned earlier the fact of the Lysacek gold medal. If you think that it takes — I don’t know, possibly slightly exaggerating here but — ten years to start training a new generation of skaters who have a different kind of technical aptitude, then probably in 2010 the US skating establishment saw Evan and thought, “Well, we’re doing this right! Our emphasis on artistry is correct!” and you keep pushing back the time when we’re going to see US skaters able to be competitive on an international stage.
Lo: I guess I don’t really see a savior for US ladies’ skating any time soon, I think they’re still very much holding on to an old-fashioned mindset. I also think that — and I’ve heard that — technically speaking, on lower levels young girls are not being called out for issues like under-rotations, and wrong edges on their toe jumps, and that hurts them quite a bit once they get to senior. You see that with so many of the top US ladies having major technical issues, especially in terms of under-rotations. So until they really start hammering that on a lower level I don’t really see US ladies coming back again.
Kite: Something that you see running in parallel to the decline of the US ladies on the world stage is the rise of the Russian ladies. The rise of the Russian ladies really starts with Maria Butyrskaya, who was the first Russian woman to ever win the World Championships, and then she is very quickly followed by Irina Slutskaya, who won two World titles and two Olympic medals, and is the most decorated Russian lady ever to compete. You see this dominance extend into the present day. Since 2011, six of the eight World Junior Champions have been Russian, and ⅔ of all the Junior Worlds podiums since 2011 have been Russian ladies, and they swept the podium in 2013, in 2014. You really have this big bevy of young, talented girls suddenly being pushed through the junior ranks and winning a lot of international competitions.
Clara: Including the Olympic gold medal in 2014, in Sochi.
Kite: Yeah, Adelina Sotnikova winning the first Russian Olympic gold medal in ladies figure skating — amid considerable controversy, let’s not sugarcoat that at all.
Lo: In 2006, the Russian government increased figure skating funding by a factor of 10, and I don’t think this can be overlooked in terms of the rise of Russia: money’s a huge deal, obviously. And the Russian pipeline strongly favors pushing teenage girls to major titles before their jumps go away or fail them. Most of the top Russian champions of recent years have really risen to the top at very young ages, such as Lipnitskaya and Sotnikova. A major example of this is Radionova, going from Russian champion in 2014 to 10th in 2017, and no longer receiving Russian Federation funding.
Clara: Even after Olys, they were interviewing Alina and Evgenia and they were saying, “We’re already really scared of all the young Russian girls who are coming behind us.”
Lo: This has really pushed the Russian ladies’ field because there’s always, always someone right behind them nipping at their heels, and pushing them to up their technical skills, their skating skills. It’s really led the entire field to rise and to improve their overall level. The depth of talent currently in Russian ladies, especially in juniors, is basically unprecedented in the history of the sport. They won over half — maybe even more than that — of all Junior Grand Prix medals last season, and I doubt that will change in the coming season, especially considering Trusova’s dominance. I think the era of Russian lady dominance is here to stay for another quad, it’s very interesting. Out of all the federations, Russia is the one that adapted well — the most — to IJS, at least in the ladies’ discipline. We could probably have something else to say about the other three disciplines, but they definitely jumped on the rule changes with regards to the ladies and it’s paid dividends.
Clara: Though, as we were saying — they churn out young senior ladies who perform, but are they being pushed too hard from behind and artificially shortening their careers by overtraining, by risking technical content that they wouldn’t otherwise? Because they have a problem with career longevity.
Kite: Right, it’s interesting that Lo mentions that these girls have younger skaters nipping at their heels all the time, especially the senior girls, because you have something in Russian skating that you don’t really see in US skating, which is top rivals training with each other. For example, up until pretty recently, Evgenia and Alina trained under the same coach, they were on the ice together every day, and they could see how their rival was doing: That’s how they pushed each other. And this training environment, while it’s quite brutal, does push out champions, because when you’re constantly training alongside your top rival and seeing them improve, then you feel more of that pressure to up your own game and to strive for bigger technical feats. There’s always someone from behind you pushing you to either be the best you can be, or you fall by the wayside, and that’s a big part of why they’ve risen so dramatically in the past five or six years.
Kar: Moving on, we see another rise in a certain country’s federation. We see the rise in Japanese ladies, and overall Asian women in general. This starts off with Asian gold-medal finishes and history-makers like Shizuka Arakawa and Miki Ando. We have in 2006 Arakawa becoming the first Japanese Olympic champion in any discipline, taking the gold medal in ladies, and before this the only Japanese Olympic medallist was Midori Ito. Since then, Japan has not finished off the podium in an Olympic Games — since 2006. We really see lots of inspiration coming from there and it’s continued. We still see lots of Japanese women, especially, taking medals on the world stage.
Kite: And you see between 2006 and 2008 Asian women actually won seven out of nine World medals, so they were pretty heavy medal favourites for the next Olympics. The Yuna Kim/Mao Asada rivalry was the headline story of the Vancouver Olympics, and they made so many podium finishes together that they really spearheaded the suddenly dramatic rise of the Asian ladies. Since 2008, 15 of the 33 Ladies Worlds Medallists have been from either Japan or Korea, which is a pretty insane percentage, almost half from two countries.
Clara: And we say Korea — it’s all Yuna, to be clear!
Kite: Yeah, it’s all Yuna!
Lo: To go along with the rise of Asian women, particularly Japanese women, we have the rise of Asian men. There has been a Japanese man on the Worlds podium for eight of the last eleven years. Daisuke Takahashi was the first Japanese man to win an Olympic medal, and in the past two Olympics we’ve also had Japanese men on the podium — in 2018 we had two Japanese men on the podium, obviously. And of course we have to mention Yuzuru Hanyu, the first man to break 100 in the short program, 200 in the free skate, 300 overall, first man to repeat as an Olympic champion in 66 years, first Asian man to win the Olympics — we could go on for an hour listing —
Kite: This could be a whole episode.
Lo: This could be a whole episode. Again, basically, the most dominant figure in Men’s skating in the last ten years was from Japan.
Kite: We also have, from China, Jin Boyang, who is the first ever man from China to win a world medal, and actually is the first singles medallist since Chen Lu in 1996. This is a shocking statistic, and makes some of us feel a little bit old, but Boyang hadn’t even been born the last time China had a singles skater on the World podium. It was 20 years between the two, but looks like he’s here to stay.
Lo: He absolutely is. In ice dance, the major change of the past 25 years or so is the rise of North American ice dance. The first North American ice dance team to win a medal at Worlds was Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz. They won in 2003 and ever since then, basically, the US and Canadian teams have done extremely well at Worlds and the Olympics. The only US individual medals in the past two Olympics came in ice dance, gold in 2014 and bronze in 2018, and of course there’s Virtue and Moir, who many believe are the greatest ever to do ice dance. They’ve been the dominant figure in the sport in the past ten years, I would say. And right now, the US is basically overflowing with ice dance talent, in my opinion. It’s incredibly deep, from Chock and Bates, Hubbell and Donohue, the Parsons siblings —
Kite: Hawayek and Baker.
Lo: Yeah, Hawayek and Baker. Obviously, the Shibutani siblings plan on coming back. It’s incredibly deep. And while they’re not literally at the top — Papadakis and Cizeron are pretty much dominant right now — they definitely have the strongest depth overall, in my opinion. And I think that Canada has pretty strong depth as well.
Karly: With Canada, we also see a lot of Weaver and Poje, even though they’re sitting out this season from the Grand Prix.
Clara: It’s kind of funny, actually, because you were pushing back earlier on this distinction between technical and artistic, but there’s a pretty clear trend that as countries fall behind in the technical race by relying too much on artistic qualities, forgive me, in singles, they do tend to maintain not top-of-the-top, but middlingly successful ice dance teams, which suggest to me that there is — I don’t know if it’s cultural, I don’t know if it’s the kind of aspects that coaches concentrate on when they’re getting young skaters who haven’t decided what discipline they’re going into yet, but there does seem to be something there, right? Because North America and Europe now, singles basically off the map, ice dance doing pretty well.
Lo: Although I would like to push back on that a bit. Canada does have the current reigning world ladies’ champion.
Clara: That is true.
Lo: And last season they had two ladies on the World podium. I wouldn’t necessarily say that Canada has truly fallen behind in terms of singles. I think that right now, their men’s especially is probably going to struggle for a few years as they learn to adjust to life without Patrick Chan. They certainly do have talents in the junior field. Obviously, we’re all interested to see where Stephen Gogolev — how talented he actually is. He’s definitely an intriguing figure in juniors right now. And in the US, I would say that, obviously, we’ve documented the struggles of the ladies’ singles, but again, they currently have the men’s world champion. Nathan Chen is the men’s world champion. I would say that overall, the men’s is struggling right now outside of Nathan and Vincent, but again, those two skaters are going to be challenging for podiums this season. Relatively speaking, I can’t really say that there’s a crisis in US men’s singles right now.
Clara: You’re right. I was being unfair; I’m sorry.
Lo: Oh, no — I definitely think that you have a point, but it’s somewhat, a bit premature to both Canadian ladies’ singles and US men’s singles. I think that those two disciplines are okay.
Clara: Consider me chastised.
Kite: Just moving on briefly to the pairs discipline. Since 2002, we’ve really seen a pretty meteoric rise of the Chinese pairs. That’s basically due to the influence of one man, Yao Bin, who was actually a pairs skater himself, was pretty terrible — we talked about this briefly in a previous episode, and then decided to, instead of dwelling on the fact that he placed last at the World Championships, at the Olympics, turned China into a pairs powerhouse. In 2002, one of his teams, Shen and Zhao, became the first Chinese pairs team to win Worlds, and then they went on to win the bronze medal at the Olympics. And then in 2010, Shen and Zhao, and one of their compatriot teams ended up placing on the Olympic podium again, and Shen and Zhao actually ended the 46-year streak of the Russians and the Soviets winning the Olympic pairs event. And it was the first time in 46 years that there was not a single Russian team on the pairs podium at the Olympics. Zhao, who was on that gold medal-winning team, actually is currently the coach of Sui and Han, who are World champions and Olympic medalists. And in 2018, to honor his unprecedented achievements for pairs skating in China, Yao Bin was elected to the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame, so there’s a feel-good story for you.
Karly: It’s a very inspiring story, and it just makes me really happy. And it’s so nice to go back and watch their skates. Chinese pairs have been, for me, one of my favorite pairs teams.
Lo: I’d say one of the most widely impactful stories of the past 20 years was the 2002 Salt Lake City pairs scandal. The basic rundown of this was the Russian team, which is Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze, were placed first by the judges despite making a mistake in their free skate while the Canadian team, Salé and Pelletier, skated perfectly and were placed second. And basically the French judge was implicated in colluding with Russia. They struck a deal to give the Russians the Olympic gold medal in pairs and the French team the Olympic gold medal in ice dance which — that did happen. (Clara: That did happen). That absolutely did. Eventually after all of this was revealed, the Canadians and the Russians were awarded the Olympic gold medal, but this entire ordeal led to the change from 6.0 to the IJS. And one of the biggest changes is judge anonymity, which is mean to protect judges from retribution from their own fed for not favoring a home skater which — this is an admirable change, in my opinion. However, it led to some major issues later on, most notably in 2014 when Sotnikova defeated Yuna Kim and many people, especially in Korea but I’d say all around the world, were very suspicious about how all of that went down. Nearly two million people signed a petition for there to be an inquiry into that particular podium. And while it did not lead to any reversal of results, it did help lead to the ending of anonymous judging. So ever since 2014 we now do not have anonymous judging.
Clara: Ever since 2016, actually (Lo: 2016, you’re right). It always takes the ISU a bit longer than we’d think to actually make a change.
Karly: Our next point we want to think about the drivers of scores. We want to think about nationalities as a driver and maybe training locations and certain coaches as a driver, so this brings into discussion names like Raf, and Eteri, and Gadbois, and TCC, and we think of skaters from smaller feds who find themselves without bigger opportunities to grow on an international stage. One big name in smaller feds — we have Denis Ten, who was a world medalist in 2013 and 2015 and the Olympic bronze medalist in 2014. He was the first skater from Kazakhstan to ever win a World or Olympic medal. We can tell that Kazakhstan’s federation isn’t even a drop in the figure skating ocean, but he did have an internationally acclaimed coach, Frank Carroll, so a well-known coach can help a small federation. And that leads us to Javier Fernandez from Spain, Spain’s first skater to compete in the Olympics since 1956 and he is also a two-time world champion, Spain’s first skater to win an Olympic medal, and we see a lot of that influence coming from his coach, Brian Orser, which brings us to TCC.
Kite: Since 2006, the Toronto Cricket Club, or TCC as it’s referred to, has been kind of a central training base for elite skaters. So they’ve coached two, technically three, gold medalists for the Olympics, one Olympic bronze medalist. And World champions as well — Yuzuru Hanyu, Yuna Kim, Javier Fernandez, both — all won World Championships while at TCC being coached by Brian Orser and the TCC team. And they have actually grown in size — the family is now increasing, and so now you have Evgenia Medvedeva and Jason Brown at TCC as well, so really cementing the reputation as, kind of, as a training base for the elite of the elite, so to speak, and they have skaters from over seven countries training there. And it’s very much a — a place to be, if you want to crack into the top tier of singles skating.
Lo: In another discipline, in ice dance, Gadbois in Montreal has become the home for virtually every top ice dance team in recent years. Obviously, Virtue and Moir train there, Papadakis and Cizeron train there, Hubbell/Donohue, Chock and Bates just moved there, the list goes on.
Kite: And so we’re gonna wrap up our discussion of iconic news stories and themes in figure skating by talking about how figure skating is called a dying sport in some circles, and discussing viewership and how it’s declined over the past few decades. And so you really saw the peak public interest in figure skating in the 1990s, and specifically with the Nancy/Tonya scandal in 1994 and how they were both eventually named to the Olympic team. And the ladies’ event at the 1994 Olympics actually had higher ratings than the Super Bowl, and as of 2008 was the 6th highest-rated program of all time, across all genres, on television, and by far the highest-rated ladies’ sporting event in history.
Lo: Yeah, in any sport.
Kite: And it was followed across the world. I mean, this was a story that captivated the public imagination — and still does. You have movies like I, Tonya, you have Tonya Harding appearing on Dancing With the Stars. Even though it’s been, what, 24 years it happened, it’s still very much a part of public conscience in the United States and worldwide.
Lo: I think it needs to be mentioned that the Nancy/Tonya scandal led indirectly to the founding of the Grand Prix series. Before the scandal, most of the main competitions were pro competitions. There wasn’t really an amateur competition series until the Grand Prix series was kind of made to capitalize on the extra attention that the Tonya/Nancy scandal had put on the sport. So we can basically thank Tonya and Nancy for the Grand Prix series. Thank you.
Kite: That’s the oddest thank you I’ve ever given.
Lo: The oddest thank you you’ll ever hear, yes.
Karly: The only time I’ll ever thank Tonya.
Lo: And again, we have to also recognize that when we talk about the interest of skating going downhill in the United States, that is not the case in Asia, particularly in Japan, where it seems to be as popular as ever.
Clara: Yeah, in Japan, you’ve regularly got about 20% of the country tuning in to watch figure skating competitions, even, even, sort of, the more minor GP events, whereas in the US, you don’t really know because the numbers are harder to get, what with the existence of Ice Network and all, but we suspect it’s close to under 1%, if anything.
Kite: I think a number that sticks out to me with figure skating viewership just being wildly popular in Japan is Yuzuru Hanyu’s Olympic free-skate, and how — I think — he had 60% viewership in certain areas of Japan, which is nuts. It’s just ridiculous to me.
Lo: Yeah, that’s Super Bowl-like figures, you know, for the Americans.
Kite: Last week, our hosts piloted a pre-outro segment known as the Shout-out of the Week, where we would like to acknowledge a skater or a program or an event that is especially meaningful to us, and this week we would like to dedicate that to Denis Ten, who tragically passed away on July 19th. He was a history-maker for Kazakh skating and for Kazakh athletes in general, he was a big part of the reason why his country was able to bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics, and the past few days have seen social media just flooded with condolences from fellow skaters, from coaches, from figure skating media who really came together to share their memories of their time with Denis, and it really hit home the fact that he was a friend to everyone. We thought it would be apropos for us to each also say a few words about what Denis’ skating meant to us.
For me it was watching his programs, especially his free-skate, at the 2013 World Championships, back when I was still kind of a new fan. And it was of course a fantastic program in its own right, it won the World silver medal, and just witnessing his outpouring of emotion afterwards drove home the reminder that figure skating, at the end of the day, it’s not always about medals, it’s not always about the victories that you can display externally. Especially in a sport that’s so heavily governed by politics and by the power of big federations, that a skater from a virtually nonexistent federation can become a World and Olympic medalist was almost unthinkable at the time. And he did it. And he broke that barrier, and he really reminds me of a quote that was said by Siddhartha Mukherjee, who wrote a book called The Emperor of All Maladies, and he said that before Roger Bannister ran the four-minute mile, it was widely thought to be an impossible feat. But after it happened, the realization was that, “You don’t just break a limit, you break the idea of a limit.” That was what Denis Ten brought to the sport of figure skating for me.
Karly: For me, watching him at the Sochi Olympics as an unknowing four-year fan is something that I’ve never forgotten, even getting back into the sport. Back then even I could tell that Kazakhstan wasn’t a country known for producing figure skating medals and that he’d done something amazing and something that no one had expected, really. Even back then, I had a sense of pride that I haven’t really felt many times in my life. And then his subsequent gala exhibition, the Warriors of Kazakhstan, was something that stuck in my head, and has been one of my favorites from him — and it really shows the passion with which he skates. It just is the one of the ones that sticks with me.
Clara: For me, more recently, it would be his FS from last year, particularly — I watched him at the Golden Spin, a competition in Croatia, and he was skating to a beautiful French song called SOS d'un terrien en détresse, which was being sung by one of his countrymen. And he was having a nightmare with his jumps, like he did most of last season, unfortunately. And still, despite that, everything that was between the jumps was so beautiful, so sensitively portrayed, so light and delicate on the ice that it was nonetheless an incredibly moving performance. And that’s what I’ve always loved about his skating, just that he can connect with you so well, and he’s such a fantastic interpreter when he’s on the ice.
Clara: That wraps it up for this week. Thanks for sticking with us. Starting next week, we’re moving our episode releases to Tuesday at 7am EST, which is 11am UTC if you are not an American. And we hope that’ll give us more time during the actual season to bring you, the quality and information that we would like to include in our episodes. So the next episode will be about the first Challenger Series competition of the season, which will be the Asian Open Trophy.
Karly: If you want to get in touch with us, please feel to contact us via Twitter @InTheLoPodcast, or on Tumblr at inthelopodcast.tumblr.com.
Kite: And we’re on Youtube as well, just search for In The Loop Podcast and you’ll find our episodes there too.
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Lo: and Lo.
Karly: See you soon!